Cornell University food scientists are putting the squeeze on the microorganisms that spoil food and make people sick.

With the installation of a new, commercial-scale, high-pressure processing (HPP) unit, Cornell University’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, Ithaca, N.Y., is said to be the nation’s first commercial scale validation facility for a technology that kills foodborne pathogens and extends shelf life for fresh, ready-to-eat foods like juice, meats and more.

The new Hiperbaric 55 high-pressure food processor at Cornell’s New York State Agricultural Experiment Station (NYSAES) in Geneva, N.Y., maintains the ability to retain fresh quality attributes in food while inactivating spoilage and pathogenic microorganisms.

Food science professor Randy Worobo is overseeing the new validation center, which houses the HPP unit. The validation center is part of the Institute for Food Safety at Cornell University, established in 2015 with $2 million in state funding to harness Cornell’s strengths in food safety research and training to combat foodborne illness.

“The food industry is adapting high-pressure processing very rapidly because it retains the fresh-like character of the food products while guaranteeing safety by inactivating foodborne pathogens,” Worobo says. “At Cornell University, we have a long-standing history of working very closely with the food industry to help companies innovate and create new products, while ensuring the safety of the food. This is just another example of our collaboration fueling economic opportunities for companies while protecting consumers.”

The commercial-grade processor is also said to be the first in the United States to be installed within a Biohazard Level 2 facility, which means researchers will be able to introduce pathogens to foods and test how well the pressure system kills them. That’s important for companies in dealing with regulatory agencies tasked with ensuring food safety.

“Because high-pressure processing is such a new technology, the federal regulatory agencies are not that familiar with it, and what they expect is for companies to have validation studies that actually demonstrate that under this pressure, for this time, with this food, that you get a consistent pathogen reduction that meets regulatory guidelines,” Worobo says. “Cornell is setting the standards that companies will use to bring fresh, high-quality foods to market in a safe way.”

In addition to testing samples for individual companies, Worobo says Cornell researchers will be “working non-stop” to develop “microbial safe harbors,” which are essentially best processing recommendations for food manufacturers.